for Olga Ginzburg
Posted on December 21st, 2020
1. Tell us a little about this project / Picturing Staten Island
The ongoing body of work I make on Staten Island began when I moved back to the borough, about four years ago— a place where my family has lived since the 90s. Indifferent to what life on the island seemed to offer, I moved away while still in my teens, and seldom returned in the intervening years. I first started to make photographs here as a way to reacquaint myself with a place I once called home. I returned a photographer, and so I think naturally was bound to be more open and look at things a little more closely. The suburbia of my youth now appealed to me, and I found myself walking the streets of my neighborhood filled with a curiosity—for the people, and for the landscape—that I never could have predicted. Perhaps by the time I moved back I was in some ways imbued with the imagery that photographers and filmmakers exploring the banal beauty of American suburbia sought to capture, and yet I knew that my interests lay deeper. I wanted to talk to people; to get to know them when I could, and quietly observe them when I couldn’t; to have friends in the neighborhood.
A part of—though long considered culturally separate from—the greater metropolitan area, the mores of Staten Islanders can at times be misconstrued or oversimplified by those who don’t live here. Like clues or hints, I find myself looking for the subtle ways in which they sometimes reveal themselves. The parts of the borough I’ve made much of the work, thus far, might be seen as homogenous, but I’ve encountered all sorts of people. In some ways I like the idea of disrupting whatever the general narrative might be. With this work I’m not trying to define a place, but rather to broaden one’s idea and understanding of it, including my own. This is my home, and yet the more I seek to know it, the more complex and elusive it remains.
2. Analog or Digital?
Both, and yet I go through periods where it’s either one or the other. I was primarily a film photographer when I moved back, and more street than documentary. After the first year I discovered medium format when I started to talk to people and portraiture became the primary mode of marking my encounters with them. As I started to lean more toward digital, I’ve found myself being less considerate about each frame, but freer in some ways, and more experimental, too. There’s something thrilling about leaving the house and coming back at the end of the day with a card full of images that have the potential to tell a full story: about the day, a neighborhood, an encounter, etc. In some ways I think I’ve become a better storyteller because of digital, though I find myself missing the more contemplative, slower nature of analog. There’s no better or worse. Ultimately, the only thing that should matter is the particular nature of the work and what it asks of you.
3. What inspires you?
Above all else, I’m inspired and motivated by my quest to try and understand how others exist in the world. My experiences and knowledge are limited— I am but one person. A day doesn’t go by that I don’t learn from others. In terms of this work, the photographs themselves are predicated on chance encounters, and what I seek is a kind of magic that can exist in ordinary daily living. Also, the people I’m usually most drawn to aren’t exactly like me. They often don’t look like me, and their lives and experiences likely differ from my own. I learn from them and am a better person for it.
4. What is your favorite thing about being a creative person?
I think my favorite thing is to be able to channel the things that I experience, otherwise it could be tough to process them. As wonderful, strange, awkward, painful and a myriad other thing that life can be, experiences not just inform me as a person, but I find them feeding back into my work—something I think many creative people can relate to. I’m in the midst of working on several projects now which are more personal in nature—with the lens turned on myself and my family. I’m engaging in these as a way to work through things. It’s been both tough and thrilling. There have been breakthroughs and deaden ends. I think most of us try to better understand others, and to also know ourselves better, and there are many paths to those discoveries. For me, this is the one that often feels most intuitive.
5. One tip for photographing people on the street.
Exude the energy you want to attract. If you’re open and curious and look to engage with the world, people pick up on it. Many times, I find that the people I stop to photograph are curious about me, not just the other way around. That symbiosis is one of the main reasons I do what I do, which isn’t always easy, as I’m naturally shy!
6. Optimist or pessimist?
Optimist, I would say. Though this year has been especially intense, I’ve generally always thought that people are basically good. There’s rarely a time when my encounters with people aren’t positive experiences. They exponentially enhance not just the day, but how I feel about humanity. It really doesn’t get better than that.